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Corvey 'Adopt-an-Author'

Maria Jane Jewsbury

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

Biography of Maria Jane Jewsbury (1800-1833) by Lyndsey Clarke, 'Adopt-an-author' dissertation 2001-2.


'There is no forgetting Miss Jewsbury, whenever the gifted women of England are brought under notice'
Henry Chorley (Clarke, 1990,175)

Maria Jane Jewsbury was an enthusiastic and fairly satirical writer of poems, essays, and fiction. She was born on 25 October 1800 in a small village called Measham (Appendix 1 and 2) in Derbyshire. She attended Miss Adam's school at Shenstone but had to withdraw at the age of fourteen due to bad health. (Fryckstedt 1984,179) Her father, Thomas Jewsbury, was a cotton merchant who learned from the first Robert Peel. Her mother, Maria Smith was from Warwickshire, a town called Coleshill, they married in 1799. In 1818 when his business ran into financial difficulties, Thomas moved the family to 42 Grosvenor Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester (Appendix 3). Moving to the city offered so much more to Jewsbury than a small village in the country, Manchester offered libraries and a cultivated society. She was the eldest of seven children; Thomas Smith was born 1802, Henry Richard was born 1803, Geraldine was born 1812, Arthur was born 1815 and Frank was born 1819. (Gillett, 1932,xlv) When her mother died in 1919 she took over, the youngest child being just one month old. Her literary career went on hold as she tried to juggle the difficulties of her domestic responsibilities and her ambition for being a writer. 'My domestic occupations continued as laborious as ever. I could neither read nor write legitimately until the day was over.' (Chorley, 1836, 166)

Jewsbury's work was first spotted in the Manchester Gazette, by Alaric Watts, who was then the Editor of the Manchester Courier. Watts encouraged her to write and she consequently contributed to many gift books and annuals. (Shatlock, 1993, 234) The ideas she induced were to create awareness of the difficult position of talented women in the patriarchal society. Phantasmagoria (1825) was her first collection of works; it came in two volumes and contained verse and prose. The collection was dedicated to Wordsworth, someone of great influence on her writing. (Appendix 4) This created a friendship between Jewsbury and Wordsworth's family, which continued until she died.

She became very ill in 1826 and this halted her writing for a short while, but then in 1828 she published Letters to the Young, this was based on letters written to her sister Geraldine (Appendix 5) who also went on to be a famous writer. In 1828 she had a working holiday in Wales with Felicia Hemans (Appendix 6) and wrote Lays of Leisure Hours. She published this in 1829 and dedicated it to Hemans. In 1830 she published The Three Histories her longest and better-known work. She became the leading writer for the Athenaeum and wrote one of the first known articles written by a woman on Jane Austen.

She had doubts about her abilities as a writer and felt trapped as a nursemaid for the family. In 1832, against her father's wishes, Jewsbury married Rev. William Fletcher, 'My father set his heart on somebody very grand, forgetting that grand people do not take fancies to tradesmen's daughters.' (Gillett, 1932,) She accompanied him to India where she died of Cholera on the 4 October 1833. As she died at the young age of thirty-three she obviously never had the opportunity to be as famous or successful as other female poets. She was still writing even up to eight days before her death and so I am sure that her popularity would have prospered if she had lived longer. Fletcher wrote, at the abrupt ending of one of Jewsbury's letters, 'More my beloved one never wrote. Eight days after this the spirit became a glorified saint.'( Lancashire Worthies, Second Series, 1874-7, 336)
Geraldine tried to collect the rest of the unpublished works of her sisters' work but unfortunately found it difficult to create contact with Fletcher. In answer to Mr Samuel Simpson, a solicitor of Lancaster, who wanted to make a memorial for Jewsbury, Geraldine writes informing him that Rev. Fletcher has retained all of Maria's work,

I fear it would be to little purpose to apply to him, as he has hitherto taken no notice of our repeated letters, nor have we had the slightest communication from him since her death - and as he is now married again, I much fear we never shall - it has, you may imagine, greatly added to our sorrow to have been thus prevented paying any respect to her memory. (Gillett, 1932, lxvi)

Thomas Jewsbury died in 1840 and from studying the census of 1841 we can see that passed on his business to his eldest son who lived fourteen houses up on 69 Grosvenor Street (Appendix 7).